By BOB LABRIOLA
LATROBE, Pa. – At the end of his media briefing following the Saturday afternoon practice, Coach Mike Tomlin suggested that the first installment of goal-line would be held on Sunday. Then with a smile, he added, "I want to make them do it in front of their families and girlfriends."
There is no more competitive drill in Steelers training camp than goal-line, and Tomlin's decision to wait until Family Night for the first installment ensured it would be staged at the proper emotional level. The rules were for the ball to be placed at the 1-yard line, with the offense scoring a point for a touchdown and the defense getting a point for a stop. The defense won the best of seven, 4-3, but the offense scored three times after falling behind, 4-0, to make it close.
"The emphasis of the practice was focused on short yardage and goal line," said Tomlin. "I like some things I saw from both sides of the football, offensively and defensively. We'll get another opportunity to do that here before too long. We're just going to continue the process the building of our football team."
The goal-line drill came at the end of the practice, and immediately before it began Tomlin called the team up and spoke to the players about what was going to follow and what he wanted to see.
"I was trying to set the stage," said Tomlin. "There's no question the energy and enthusiasm is going to be there, but we want to bottle it somewhat to make sure the guys understand it's not a street fight. There's technique, there's camaraderie, there's etiquette, and those guys did a nice job."
As for the results, the first-team defense dominated, and then the offense, paced by rookie free agent Isaac Redman, scored on its final three attempts to make the final score close.
On the first play, the offense deployed three tight ends and running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Carey Davis. The defense went with four defensive linemen – but not Casey Hampton – five linebackers and three defensive backs. With Chris Kemoeatu pulling from left guard and leading Mendenhall over the right side, Keyaron Fox filled the hole and delivered the hit to keep Mendenhall out of the end zone.
Same personnel groupings on the second play, and this time it was Brett Keisel who made the big hit to stop Mendenhall. On the third play, rookie Frank Summers got the ball, but it was the same result, this time with Tyrone Carter and Fox combining on the stop. That gave the defense a 3-0 lead, and the unit cemented the win by smothering Summers on an attempted run right up the middle.
"The first team (defense) did pretty good, as usual," said James Farrior, "but they scored three times so we still have some work to do."
Those scores came on successive plays – Summers swept around the right side to score, Redman found a nice hole over the right side and scored standing up, and then Redman finished it off by running over rookie free agent inside linebacker Andrew Schantz on the final play.
"Those guys need to understand the tempo of short-yardage and goal-line," said Tomlin. "Pad level is critical in those situations. Snap counts are critical, especially from a defensive standpoint. When you have somebody in a third-and-1 situation, you don't want to give them a first down. The big thing is you can't beat yourself in those instances, and then of course usually the lowest man wins."
That's the thought process behind the drill, and Tomlin wasn't about to be overly concerned with the results at this stage of camp.
"We're just trying to build a team," said Tomlin. "Somebody's going to win and somebody's going to lose when we pit ourselves against each other, and that's what great about it. Competition is the truest motivator, and I like to put those guys in situations where they can compete."
Especially on Family Night.
INJURY REPORT: Tomlin's injury update for the day: "Limas Sweed came up with a tight hamstring (and didn't finish the session), and Casey Hampton may have tweaked his knee. At this point, neither one of those things appear to be very serious. We'll take a look on Monday morning and see if they're capable of practicing. I'd characterize those guys as day-to-day at this point. All of the guys with aches and pains who we've talked about are coming back to work, which is good. The only guys who continue to be out are Mewelde Moore and Martin Nance with their hamstrings, and Darnell Stapleton with his knee." Also, Willie Parker missed another day because of back spasms.
WEATHER REPORT: For the first time at camp, it was something other than comfortable during the afternoon practice. With the humidity, the heat index on the field reached 92-degrees. "I like the weather we had today and hopefully it'll continue," said Tomlin. "But of course, we don't worry too much about that because we don't control it."
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